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U.S. PROGRAMMERS ARE FALLING OFF THE PACE

IS THE U.S. LOSING ITS EDGE in software? Over the years, the U.S.--a dominant force in the computer industry--has lost its technology advantage in such pockets of the business as memory chips and monitors. But that has never happened when it comes to writing computer programs. Software has always been an American success story.

That may be changing. According to META Group, a market research firm in Stamford, Conn., U.S. software productivity is on an alarming downward trend. To calculate productivity, the study measured programmer output at 6,000 companies in 46 countries. It found that U.S. developers produced an average 354,000 lines of software code last year, down almost 50% from 690,000 in 1995--placing the U.S. at the bottom of the global ranking. The top performer: Canada.

U.S. companies are still the most innovative software developers, but the rapid pace of technological change is slowing them down, says Howard Rubin, who conducted the study. He calls it the ''learning curve effect.'' By staying off the bleeding edge, other countries aren't experiencing as big a drop in productivity.

Meanwhile, business demand for software is up 25%, creating an imbalance that could boost business for offshore programming shops, the study concludes.

EDITED BY IRA SAGER



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